Ireland’s electricity grid is facing an increased prospect of blackouts this winter as emergency plans to import power generators have stalled, a professor of energy engineering at University College Cork has said.
EirGrid, which operates Ireland’s electricity grid, has said “maintaining the balance between supply and demand has become increasingly challenging” due to a number of factors.
In a statement the power transmission operator said “certain types of conventional generation providing additional backup are being phased out in line with European directives.”
EirGrid also said Covid-19 has delayed annual maintenance and repair to generators, with two gas generators in Cork and Dublin, which comprise of 15% of conventional generation, out of service since last winter pending repair.
“Ireland is experiencing a significant growth in electricity demand,” EirGrid said.
“These factors have the potential to place increased pressure on the supply-demand balance, particularly when demand for electricity is high and renewable generation is low,” the statement added.
EirGrid said a process of “securing emergency generation for this coming winter was instigated… in recent months.”
However the outlook for the return of the two gas-fired generators is now “much improved”, EirGrid said, and “therefore the need for this emergency generation is reduced”.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Professor Brian Ó Gallachóir said this is “part of a process… as our electricity system moves increasingly to a zero-carbon power system.”
“We’ve seen only last week, the international report on climate change gives a greater impetus to us to really reduce emissions across all of the sectors of the economy and transport, heating, agriculture,” he said.
“The key challenge in electricity is doing that and at the same time ensuring that we have sufficient energy to keep the lights on and power things we need to go about our daily lives.”
Prof Ó Gallachóir said that over the last 20 years Ireland has increased the amount of renewable energy in our system.
“This has been very effectively carried out through policies that build on research and the market signals and the engineering community working together,” the director of the MaREI Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine research and innovation said.
“We’ve increased the amount of renewable energy, but we also have increasing demands for electricity,” he said.
Prof Ó Gallachóir highlighted data centres, electrical vehicles and heat pumps as new areas of electricity use.
He said that data centres “are very hungry in the electrical demands that they create.”